introducing readers to writers since 1995

January 24, 2005

From the Art Book Stack

by Ron Hogan

bascove.jpgI couldn't quite put my finger on why, but the more I stared at the cover of Sustenance & Desire, the more familiar it seemed. It wasn't until I peeked at the back cover flap that I realized Bascove was the artist responsible for two of my favorite series of book covers as a younger reader: the Penguin paperbacks of Robertson Davies's Deptford and Cornish trilogies and the original Mysterious Press editions of Jerome Charyn's Isaac Sidel novels. (For that matter, it had somehow never clicked for me that the two authors--whom I read a decade apart--shared a cover artist.) Now I can see what jogged my dim memories, although the fifteen paintings vividly reproduced here are quite different than that earlier work. There's a slightly more realistic quality to the human figures, a softness to the faces; the still lifes of fruits and vegetables, however, remain highly stylized--while they are unmistakably artichokes and leeks and eggplants, and the heirloom tomatoes especially so, most of them are also arresting patterns of color and line.

All of which is put into service to accompany an eclectic assortment of poems and essays on the various pleasures associated with food and the memory of food. My favorite juxtaposition--perhaps illustrative of the collection as a whole--prefaces Robin Robertson's "Artichoke" with Thomas Lynch's "Robin Robertson Gazed," which speculates on how one of Britain's best new poets created that particular poem. But there's plenty else to enjoy here: Calvin Trillin on gelato tasting in Italy, an Elizabeth Macklin terza rima about an espresso pot, a Basho haiku on morning tea...

Love Letters, Lost is a near-simultaneous arrival to the stacks of books on either side of my desk. It's the latest collection from Babbette Hines, who owns the Found: Photo gallery in Los Angeles. Although there are plenty of names in the love letters Hines compiles and reproduces, we still know about their writers only what they chose to share with their recipients, adding an air of mystery (and in some cases suspense) to the pages. I'm still shaking my head at the number of letters written on office stationery; that one guy at the Bank of Italy had it particularly bad for Dagmar... And are those photos of the people who wrote and read the letters? If Hines knows, she isn't telling... at least not yet.

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